To Dance with the Dead in the Fell Moonlight

MY BELOVED JOLIETTE had long ago stopped living. Yes, death had us both, but even in death, passion knows no bounds. She would love me in the end, for it was just in her nature, I suppose — to love the dead.

You see, everything dies. The birds, the bees, the trees, and the seas, the earth, the moon, the stars, and the sun — all their times shall duly come. It is ironic, is it not, how everything seems so poetic in death, yet we rarely see the poetry in life?

Death: The moment when pride and vanity abandon us, the moment where humility is our only saving grace, the moment where begging doesn’t seem so beneath us. Unpleasant, yes. A grim and unavoidable fact, inarguably, and yet, there are those who would argue, those who would spend long grey days in torment, uselessly obsessing over the thought of their own mortality as they try in vain to knit their will back together with filaments of labored breath. For that lot, death is a terrifying certainty. Condemned not to the material world, it is a certainty that spans the depth and breadth of all life as we know it. The tangible and the intangible alike stumble haplessly into its needful grasp at some point or another. Even the strongest most deliberate of minds will never be able to fully comprehend its reach. Hopes, dreams, aspirations, love, relationships. The very distasteful idea of civilization as a whole, its dogma, and its ideals have perished an infinite number of times over the course of history. As the passing of the world slips down through fractures in the muck-covered gravel of time, everything is absorbed into everything else. Every bit of matter, whether it be rock, stone, or bone becomes a part of antiquity. Mist, magic, or trembling lips, everything transcends in an elemental eclipse.

Everything.

Every atom, every slight or obtuse particle of dust, and every swirling cloud of detritus will eventually possess the memory of everything else, etched into its core.

My Joliette understood all of this — understood it well enough not to realize that its truth had gnawed away at the very core of her own being.

Her childhood, such as it was, was not so different from any other, she would say. The carefree days of laughing and frolicking, the sun-drenched meadows, and the stagnant mire of childhood dilemmas had passed mutely into the history of her life — a history all too brief — brief and burdened with the overwhelming eventualities of death.

Over the course of a lifetime, one might never be able to calculate how many tears could be shed on account of death.

How many tears would it take?

How many would it take before one becomes accustomed to death? How many would it take before the pain ceases, before your heart grows cold with acceptance, and how many would it take before you are no longer able to feel anything at all?

For Joliette, it didn’t take many.

Mercy’s gift, a flood of tears, or so Joliette had always wanted to believe, abacus in hand, as she knelt down and looked out over the edge: A fortress wall — tall and proud. A jagged edge — steep. An edge where chill winds score the soul, its lamentation quick and deep. The edge of infinity, some might say, one devoid of idolatry, whereupon reaching dizzying heights, she could stand perched precariously upon a life full of truisms and negate her own will. Anger, pride, sorrow. Infinite were the blocks of stone surrounding the heart of my beloved Joliette, infinite the rhyme and reason. Joliette’s stone blocks were infinitely stronger, as well, stronger than were those surrounding my own decayed body, and so they should have been enough to protect her. But most days, for Joliette, they were not.

I met my beloved during an archaeological excavation high atop the ragged mountains off the coast of the Black Sea. For two long years, she had suffered the encampment, suffered and struggled against forces, which had without abate, endeavored to damn her soul. The elements, the vicious clamor of the naysayers, and the treachery of her own deteriorating self-confidence ravaged her by night and by day.

“The search is not futile,” she would say through clenched teeth to anyone within earshot. “I know he is here. I can feel him … just behind my eyes.”

My Joliette could feel me: an ache in her heart, a crimson heat in her stomach. Despite the well-rehearsed cold candor, the impudence, and the rather antiseptic approach to her own emotions, she boasted an uncanny ability for unearthing burial places. It mattered not how old, decrepit, or deeply hidden they were, she always knew. It was as if she could sense them through the shadows of obscurity just beyond some invisible plane of existence, beyond the very corporeal restraint of logic.

For an archaeologist to posses such a talent was quite a boon, and such an extraordinary boon could not have been bestowed upon a scholar of greater merit. Early in her career, her insights and findings had caused a great deal of disturbance in the scientific community, and the justifiable reward for her diligence was the very prestigious title of gravedigger. Although in backroom conversations, the term was used to describe her talents a bit more callously. Joliette wasn’t blind to the insults, but she took an unaffected approach to her work, at least to all appearances. She practiced detachment with the discipline of an executioner: always the socially accepted smile upon her face, the required acquiescent gleam in her eye, and the resolve of cold steel edging against her spine. Their mockery mattered little. She knew the Black Sea would prove them wrong, would prove them all wrong.

And so through the twilight, through history’s history, its rubble and its tattered pages, she had come to this place, this hostile, wild, and isolated place. Very much determined she had come, and very much alone. Her colleagues would mock her — their sharp words would cripple her in heart and in spirit — and the mountain would seduce her and break her for it. But Joliette could bear the pain: Tempered by sorrow, she could all but refuse it.

Broken, shamed, and ridiculed, she fought without relent against all the invalidated assumptions and the apparent pointlessness of her desire. Of singular purpose, she had no choice in the matter. The labor was backbreaking. The terrain — treacherous. But for her, it was a labor of pure love: worth the sweat, worth the blood, and worth the pain, the persistence of the rock grinding the flesh of her fingers down to the very bone.

As I begin this story — the story of a memory — there were but two months remaining for the excavation. The funding had run out, the patience of the benefactors had been depleted, and so had Joliette’s resolve. But on this one night, well into the twilight, with only the onyx ebb and flow of the silent sea in the distance to comfort her, she continued to dig.

Against a blackened sky, the leaden mist had thinned to a dread whisper, drifted away, allowing the sharp bitter light of the moon to obliterate all the stars and penetrate even the deepest recesses of the twilight.

It wasn’t the faint embrace of the moon that had awakened me as it bore down upon my grave. No. It wasn’t that at all. It was something much softer than that. Much, much softer, and so I turned my ear towards it, towards the dulcet melody of an angel in a dream, and in the darkness my heart was won.

Yes, it was a desperate breath mingled gently with the sea air, sweet and poetic. It was the voice of love and longing, and it rang out through the cavernous depths, penetrating the rubble, rousing my spirit from its rocky, black tomb.

I loved her instantly, loved her beauty, her grace, and her strength, and I hoped that she would love me — love me more in death than anyone ever had in life.

But alas, I was a fool.

Hope is the domain of the living.

No one would love me.

A monstrous apparition, how could anyone love me? Formless, timeless, nothing but decay and conjecture. It was impossible, and at the thought of my unworthiness, a long isolated rage coursed through my tattered flesh and broken bones.

It was then that she touched me …

A touch so invigorating that I discovered to my heart’s eternal delight that I had been wrong. A criminal err it was, to judge and condemn my own soul.

She could love me.

Yes, my Joliette most certainly would love me.

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